How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Want to see Spreading the Love films?

If you want to see last years films look to your right and scroll down to the heading 'Spreading the Love Films'. Each film is documented here - simply click on the film you want to see.

This years films will be ready in early 2012!
So stay tuned
Stay very, very ready.....

And hold tight.

Spreading the Love Press

Here's an article about Spreading the Love: The Bed Tour when we went to Goolwa for the Alexandrina Council

And here's us in Finger magazine, talking about The Bed Tour across Adelaide in 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Spreading the Love: The Bed Tour has begun!

The bed has begun it's tour!
Wanna jump on??
Come and jump in my bed and be part of short films exploring how diverse rAdelaideans LOVE.
Only 2 more to go: 
Sat 26th 9-10am @ Fullarton Market, Fullarton rd
Sat 26th 12:30-1:30pm @ Marion Cultural Centre

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This is my girlfriend on the radio

Here's my girlfriend talking about the Feast Festival this year. Plenty of thought-provoking shows, wild parties, and great times in the middle of the city! Join us for a Coopers?

See you in Light Square from 12th-27th November

Friday, August 19, 2011

Spreading the Love will be Back in 2011!

Curious about what your love future holds?
My Spreading the Love bed will be roaming Adelaide again in 2011!
Jump in my bed, eat chocolate, read cards, tell love secrets.
More coming soon....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Letting it All Out: Performance as Catharsis

Theories of catharsis offer ways to examine how performance considers and influences the emotions of spectators. Aristotle developed the concept of catharsis through his analysis of classical theatre. While interpretations of Aristotle’s catharsis vary, performance theorist Phillip Auslander understands it as the ability of art to enable ‘a safe discharge of emotional reactions’ (Auslander, 1997, p. 13). Catharsis is a way to train ourselves in the correct use of our emotions, allowing them to rise, and then fall, within a contained and safe environment.

Is Catharsis Feminist?

In looking through a feminist lens, Diamond conceives of catharsis as a shudder rather than an attempt to retain order. Diamond views catharsis as a dynamic state, rather than one that acts to regulate spectator emotions. While theatre maker Bertolt Brecht (1964) claims that traditional uses of catharsis overpowers the emotions and in doing so dulls the intellect, Diamond explores ways that feeling aroused through performances may instead provoke critical responses. Catharsis then, is a disturbance rather than a harmonic interchange between seeing and feeling.

Karen Finley with Egg on Her Face

Diamond describes the work of performance artist Karen Finley as a form of anamorphic catharsis. Through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Finley’s solo performances explored issues of sexuality, desire, abjection, trauma and disgust. Finley’s catharsis is an immersion in the traumatic material; she is the cathartic subject, both ‘victim of and witness to’, a constant ‘oscillation between seeing and feeling’ (Diamond, 1995, p. 166; p. 153).

This oscillation creates a perpetual disequilibrium, one that works to jolt spectator emotions into recognising the pain of gender and sexual oppression. In performances Finley often appears as if in a trance, regularly covering her body with symbols of defilement. Finley works to arouse and disturb the act of seeing, her shocking performances a counterbalance to constant media images that numb spectators to suffering. She is the permanently objectified woman, an unceasingly shuddering body, threatening to implicate spectators in her pain (Diamond, 1995).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Is Catharsis a lot of Crying?

I am writing about catharsis and crying so much I have to turn the radio off. You know that song 'She Cries'? (I will find the link and put it up). I am crying cos there has been a hole blast right through me with the pain of the song, the story it tells, and all the stories it doesn't tell. It's a gush that rushes through me.

Is this catharsis?

According to Aristotle, not really.
Catharsis, for him (so those who interpret his work say) is the discharge of emotions so that one may be rid of them.
Today, however, I cry out of recognition. I have no desire to rid myself of these emotions. Instead, it is an act of empathy, a desire to open to the world and let it run through my heart. It is no attempt to cleanse my heart (clean! poo-hoo!). It is a desire to let my heart see and be in the world. And some parts of the world can only be honoured through a good cry.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is Theatre for Development?

Applied theatre is used in the field of development through a group of practices often referred to as theatre for development. These performances frequently work with rural and marginalised communities employing performance, including drama, song, dance and puppetry to convey pertinent health and educational messages (Kamlongera, 2005; Prentki T. , 1998). As a tool for development work, performance may be particularly useful due to performance artists abilities to work with groups of people who are not literate, who do not share a language, or who don’t have access to other types of media. Theatre for development performances often attempt to operate in local languages, and strive for styles, techniques, plots, and characters that are culturally appropriate. This group of performances work towards delivering health and educational messages to those not reached by mainstream initiatives, while cultivating community participation and mobilisation (Chinyowa, 2008b; Kamlongera, 2005; Prentki T. , 1998). Theatre for development may offer a way of looking at how performance can work with communities to create their own approaches to transforming the script of rape.

Theatre for development in practice

Rather than being simply a method of communicating health and educational messages to communities, theatre for development aims to create a forum for people to negotiate their own change. The pedagogical theories of Paulo Friere (2002; 2006a; 2006b) offer a framework for working with communities and have been instrumental in developing concepts of theatre for development. Friere initiates a ‘bottom-up’ approach to education, in which students institute their own solutions to problems. In his most famous text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2006a), Friere separates his work from what he calls the ‘banking’ method of education. The banking method refers to the assumption that students are an empty vessel and the teacher’s ‘task is to ‘fill’ the students’ with knowledge (Friere, 2006a, p. 71). The student is filled up like a bank, a receptacle to be sustained by the teacher. The teacher tells, while the student listens, records, remembers. Knowledge can be possessed or lacking, with the teacher acting as regulator, or depositor of essential information. Meanings are delivered as if they are absolute and unchanging: ‘The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 71). According to Friere, this banking method reflects an oppressive society which clearly delineates ignorance from knowledge, and denies any attempt to transform existing power structures. Knowledge is given value according to who holds it, so that wisdom held by students is not as valuable as that held by teachers. It is the ‘teacher [who] chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 73).

Paolo Freire and freedom through education

This banking method of education annuls possibilities for transformation and creativity. It is the same framework that delivers communities ‘’folk’ songs, dances, poems and stories that have already been planned for them’ (Chinyowa, 2008a, p. 18). It presumes that ‘the individual is a spectator, not re-creator’ of the world (Friere, 2006a, p. 75). Instead of simply delivering knowledge, Friere suggests education as the posing of problems, a dialogue between equals in which all are responsible for intellectual and personal growth. Friere’s philosophy engages learners in dialogue that invites them to be become ‘co-investigators’ in building awareness (Friere, 2006a, p. 106). Learning expands into a process of conscientizacao, or a developing of awareness and taking action against of one’s oppressions (Friere, 2006a). In the spirit of Friere’s theories, when considering theatre for development Kennedy Chinyowa (2001; 2007; 2008a; 2008b) writes that the process assumes ‘people are capable of transforming themselves if they are afforded the space to participate in their own development’ (Chinyowa, 2008a, p. 5). Theatre for development is influenced by a Frierean framework and aims to become ‘the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 79). Performance is participatory, awakening people from a passive state of acceptance, into a critical consideration of their realities.

Despite the impact of Friere’s participatory framework upon theories and practices of theatre for development, performance processes may continue to silence women participants. While women may be visible in theatre for development shows, performance theorist Esi Dogbe (2002) argues that they do not necessarily have a voice in the process. In her analysis of theatre for development in Ghana, Dogbe writes that plays may deliver messages of women’s strength and decision-making abilities, yet these same performances do not allow women to become active decision makers in the play-making process. While Ghanaian policies on development aim for the empowerment of women, none of the projects that Dogbe studied explicitly attempted to challenge gender frameworks. Instead, performances target women ‘with messages to work harder, keep their surroundings clean, develop eco-consciousness, and discipline their sexual behaviour’ (Dogbe, 2002, p. 88). As Dogbe puts it, women are ‘simultaneously ‘vocal’ and ‘silenced’, ‘visible’ and invisible’’ in a contradictory approach to participation (Dogbe, 2002, p. 85).

While participation is a key tenant of theatre for development, without a critique of gendered practices, theatre for development cannot offer alternative ways for women to participate. Chinyowa maintains that while ‘community theatre remains in search of social change, it seems to be confronted by ambiguities in terms of the agency, power and representation of its participants’ (Chinyowa, 2008b, p. 11). According to Chinyowa, those working in the field of theatre for development, who are often outsiders to the communities with which they work, can fail to fully observe and understand the cultural norms of target communities. He examines how notions of participation involve more than simply performing plays in local languages, and post-performance discussions (Chinyowa, 2008a). Both Dogbe and Chinyowa warn of the potential of shaping theatre for development projects to suit stakeholder needs, rather than taking into account the specificities of each community. If performance is to prevent the script of rape then it must take as a starting point communities’ own attitudes and configurations of gender and relationships, inviting participants to consider and critique the social implications of these.

Intro to Applied Theatre

Applied theatre is an umbrella term for a group of performance practices in which artists work with individuals and communities to foster social change. The term ‘applied theatre’ may be used to refer to community theatre, political theatre, youth theatre, theatre in prisons, theatre in conflict resolution, playback theatre, psychodrama, dramatherapy, theatre in education, and theatre for development (Prentki, 2009). The term ‘applied’ in applied theatre points to two predominant functions of theatre. Theatre may be ‘applied’ to a community for self-development and exploration, or ‘applied’ to an issue that is addressed through theatre (Ackroyd, 2007). This notion of ‘theatre’ is not a distinct form of art that is understood in the same way in every community and context (Ackroyd, 2007; Prentki, 2009); in fact, applied theatre may deliberately contest and purposefully transgress theatrical traditions (Jackson A. , 2009). Both these notions ‘applied’ and ‘theatre’ therefore point to performances with a similar purpose but different theoretical frameworks and approaches.

Applied theatre from the Centre of Applied Theatre Research

In writing about contemporary discourse on applied theatre, Judith Ackroyd (2000; 2007) however, wonders if ‘the term is actually worth having’ (Ackroyd, 2007, p. 7). While she had previously embraced this term (Ackroyd, 2000), Ackroyd more recently argues that the discourse on applied theatre has created a hierarchy of performance approaches (Ackroyd, 2007). Ackroyd maintains that applied theatre must not be considered as an ideology or a method. Instead, as a range of separate and overlapping art forms that seek social transformation, these performances must continually reflect upon their purpose and engagement (Ackroyd, 2000). My interest lies in the potential of each form to work with communities to reconfigure gender and negotiate ethical relationships. Like Ackroyd, I am not merely interested in the efficacy of applied theatre performances in reaching their purported goals (Ackroyd, 2007); I am also interested in examining and critiquing these goals, asking if they have the potential to transform the script of rape.

Effect or Affect?
Applied Theatre has traditionally focused on social efficacy over aesthetic experience (Prentki T. , 1998; Thompson, 2009). Discourse on applied theatre promotes performances as working towards positive social change and personal growth; performances aim to assist people reflect upon and change their lives, to work through trauma, engage in learning, and depict ‘something of the truth of the lives of those involved’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 116). Performance theorist and director of DramaAidE (Drama Aids Education), Lyn Dalrymple tells that in the context of South Africa, the impact of applied theatre is primarily seen in terms of ‘the effect an activity or experience has had on its target audience’ (Dalrymple, 2006, p. 202; italics in original). In working on applied theatre projects that attempt to prevent the rise of HIV infections through raising awareness of the issue, Dalrymple cites the difficulty of evaluating the goals of applied theatre, and of attributing these changes to the project itself (Dalrymple, 2006). It may however be problematic to simply see applied theatre performances in terms of their social impact; evaluation is notoriously imprecise, and this perspective homogenises the types of performances that are endorsed (Ackroyd, 2000).

What about the affect of applied theatre?

James Thompson in Applied Theatre and the End of Effect (2009) argues for a methodological shift that considers the affect, rather than the effect of performance. Performance may be educational and informational, or offer ways for communities to differently negotiate their social realties. However, according to Thompson, these are not the primary attributes of performance, and he quotes Claire Colebrook who argues ‘what makes it art is not content but its affect’ (Colebrook in Thompson, 2009). This viewpoint acknowledges that performance is not merely a bundle of meanings, but a force which generates individual impressions and creative force. In suggesting a move away from a focus on efficacy, Thompson is not proposing that applied theatre become politically insignificant. Instead, he claims that ‘the aesthetic intensity is in itself the propellant of political action’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 128). In Thompson’s opinion, critique of applied theatre must move to acknowledging how aesthetic experiences of performance invite intellectual engagement (Thompson, 2009, p. 130).

Richard Schechner's Efficacy-Entertainment Braid
While Brecht and Schechner make clear distinctions between entertainment and efficacy (Schechner, 1988), Thompson does not write these functions as dichotomous, but argues instead for a discourse that acknowledges their continual interweaving. Schechner arranges entertainment and efficacy into a braid, and outlines how historically, performance has oscillated between these two extremities (Schechner, 1988). Schechner writes that at ‘any historical moment there is movement from one pole to the other as the efficacy-entertainment braid tightens and loosens’ (Schechner, 1988, p. 136). Yet for Thompson the concept of affect ‘tries to turn a braid into a mesh of felt responses’ that disrupts the opposition between efficacy and entertainment (Thompson, 2009, p. 130). Performance is promoted as having sensory, experiential, and expansive affects that promote engagement. Thompson argues that applied theatre performances must be appraised for both sensation and meaning, so ‘the joy – the buzz of the participatory arts is inseparable from the total impact of the event’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 131). In my analysis of performance as a way to prevent rape I wish to explore how the experience of performance itself may be transformative, rather than investigating transformation as some future social change.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Performance as a Ritual

In order to look for potentials for performance to prevent rape, I examine 2 broad types of theatre - the first is applied theatre, or what is sometimes called community theatre.

Applied theatre understands that performance functions in several different ways; performance may act as a mimesis of life, as a platform for catharsis, and as social ritual. Looking to performance as ritual could offer possibilities for transformation of the rape script, as rituals are commonly used by communities as ‘both indicators and vehicles of transition from one sociocultural state and status to another’ (Turner, 1979, p. 466). Rituals are used by social groups as a process of shared meaning-making and identity formation, with individuals creating, expressing, and changing themselves in conjunction with their society. During rituals there is a period perhaps potent for transformation, this is the liminal period. The liminal period is discussed by anthropologist Victor Turner as a reflexive period in which the initiate is between realities. Initiates are not who they were, but not yet who they are going to be. The liminal period is ‘betwixt and between’ social realities, on the threshold, neither here nor there (Turner V. , 1987). Sitting between times and spaces liminal phases are apart from daily duties, disconnected from everyday social masks. Liminality can include the inversion, subversion and contradiction of daily roles, with this playful performance of alternative realities a way to examine and critique both one’s own social role and the positions of others. The liminal is ‘a time of enchantment when anything might, even should, happen’ (Turner V. , 1979, p. 465).

The Show Junkie by At The Foot of The Mountain
Performances may be ideally placed to become liminal experiences, as they sit apart from daily realities, yet can continue to reflect back upon life. As Turner points out, performance can act as shared reflexivity, in which groups examine themselves. Participants in theatre are set apart from their everyday roles, ‘full of experiment and play’, with the freedom to create new ways of being (Turner, 1979, p. 466). ‘At The Foot of The Mountain’, a feminist experimental troupe established in Minneapolis in 1974, drew upon ritualistic practices, embodying shared processes of transformation (Greeley, 2005). Their piece Junkie! incorporated aspects of the liminal, becoming a space between realities that invited actors and spectators to reflect on current difficulties, and embrace new ways of being. As an attempt at group transformation, Martha Boesing, co-founder of the ‘At The Foot of The Mountain’ says Junkie! was ‘a spontaneous and immediate communal renewal, [and] the first step to spiritual surrender and recovery’ (Greeley, 2005, p. 55). At the conclusion of the play spectators were invited to share their own personal stories of addiction, loss, and recovery. Confines of everyday societal roles were forgotten, as participants came together to traverse shared journeys of recovery. Roles that usually distinguish and define people were overthrown, and stories that are usually private and painful formed the basis for united growth. Connectivity, reflection and expansion were foregrounded, using performance as a ritualistic practice for transformation.

These performative processes enabled an interconnection between actors and spectators, and between performance and life (Greeley, 2005; Rothenburg, 1988). They emphasised shared experience and togetherness, replicating the equality of neophytes undergoing a ritual (Turner V. , 1979). Rather than reflecting one, unified voice, ‘At the Foot of the Mountain’ sought to provoke a diversity of opinions, journeys, and emotions. Rather than driven by scripts written by a sole playwright who sits outside the action, performances instead emerged through group-devised improvisations in response to stimulus, and audience interaction (Greeley, 2005; Rothenburg, 1988). However, this drive for a participatory and equitable form of shared transformation has been criticised as coercive, and of stressing unanimity above diversity by feminist performance theorists Sue-Ellen Case and Jill Dolan. On remarking upon The Story of a Mother II, a performance about motherhood played by ‘At the Foot of the Mountain’ at the Women and Theatre Program in Chicago in 2001, Case said mothers were over-generalised and idealised, assumed to be positive and nurturing figures. According to Case, the performance universalised notions of motherhood, neglecting diverse experiences of individuals. Both Case and Dolan felt the shared ritual of ‘going into the mother’s body’ at the finale of the show was coercive, not allowing for multiplicity or complexity (Greeley, 2005, p. 59). In looking to performance as transformative Case and Dolan point to the coercive potentials of ritual. While ritual may be a process for initiates to shift from one social role to another, these roles can be predetermined through the ritual structure itself, rather than created by participants. Ritual then may not be a successful framework to use if looking to performance as a way of transforming the rape script. Rather than as a tool for social change, ritual can serve to simply reinforce traditional social scripts.

Yoruba Women dancing

The work of anthropologist Mary Thompson Drewal (1988; 1991; 1992), however, suggests that rituals are not necessarily about stabilising the social order, but can be a continuous process of expressing and negotiating change. Thompson Drewal observes rituals of the Yoruba African tribe; these are characterised by play and improvisation, allowing participants a degree of autonomy, and the potential to change the rituals themselves (Thompson Drewal, 1992). According to Thompson Drewal, rituals are not simply a ‘relic from the past’ replicating traditional social norms, but ‘dialogic in form, always a process of competition, negotiation, and argumentation, never simply a matter of repeating correctly’ (Thompson Drewal, 1988, p. 25). Thompson Drewal calls into question Turner’s claim that rituals both rely upon and create a stable social order (Turner, 1974; Thompson Drewal M. , 1988; 1991). Yoruba village elders contend that as society changes, rituals must also change in order to retain their relevance. Like explicit body performances, Yoruba rituals do not strive to duplicate rituals previously performed, but to re-present them in ways that allow for a critical distance. This critical distance is a revising rather than a repetition of what has been. It is a way of ‘altering the way the past is read, thereby redefining one's relation to it’ (Thompson Drewal M. , 1991, p. 43). The rituals of the Yoruba point to ways that approaches of explicit body performance may contribute to methods of applied theatre. While applied theatre looks to ritual as a lens through which to view performance, ritual structure can enforce, rather than critique traditional social scripts. Yoruba rituals, however, apply approaches akin to explicit body performance and employ ritual not to maintain, but to negotiate social norms. Instead of using ritual as a coercive attempt to align participants with existing social roles, in order to work towards transformation, ritual processes must invite individuals to reconsider and revise existing social scripts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Performance a Mirror of Life?

As a potential tool for social transformation, performance is understood as having several different functions. Here, I look at the notion that performance reflects life. If so - does this model of performance point to possibilites of changing the social script of rape?

Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher

In asking how performance may work to transform the script of rape, I turn to classical notions of the function of performance. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato considered performance as primarily mimetic, that is, performance acts as a mirror to life, or truth. In this way, performance looks to reality as the model for which to base itself; performance is a way to view and express reality. According to theatre for development theorist, Kennedy Chinyowa, performance is not only a way to express personal orientations and social interactions, but also provides ‘the frames upon which social reality can be interpreted and understood’. Chinyowa examines Sbongile, a play about teenage pregnancy made by young people from Edendale township in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In South Africa an average of 1 in 3 women have a baby before the age of 20, and the province of KwaZulu-Natal has the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancy in South Africa. Sbongile is based on lived experiences of community members; the resultant narrative is not one person’s, but one that is emblematic of local gender relationships. Performance acts as a mirror to life, as in classical notions of mimesis, becoming a way for young people to view and consider their choices. The play is created as a ‘platform for action that could influence changes in values, attitudes, and behaviour among the youth themselves’ around the issue of teenage pregnancy. Sbongile is a young woman who is kicked out of home by her father for what he perceives as ‘deviant behaviour’. Sbongile then falls pregnant, and is rejected by everyone: her boyfriend, her ‘sugar daddy’, and her friend. Although Sbongile wants greater autonomy, near the end of the play, she believes her only choices are to either kill herself, or return to her family. Finally, Sbongile returns to her father and asks for forgiveness, before giving birth to a baby girl.

Sbongile highlights social relations in which women’s sexualities are demonised, and men retain social dominance; it reflects the crisis of a ‘double consciousness’ that yearns for autonomy yet feels suppressed and trapped. Yet rather than question or seek to transform this political structure, Sbongile simply ‘allowed [the audience] to experience these paradoxical feelings’. Through using a framework of classical mimesis, and using performance to reflect life, Sbongile does not encourage a questioning of normal social relationships. Instead, it may even foster an acceptance. After seeing the show, some spectators ‘tended to condemn Sbongile for not listening to her parents and falling prey to peer pressure, while others felt she did not have much choice about circumstances. Spectators did not question patriarchal gender relations exhibited in the play, and their own crises were simply affirmed.

Which is the 'real' woman?

While a mimetic view of performance can allow spectators to reflect upon life, it may also stifle change. An attempt at realism can stagnate and make permanent gender relations: ‘In the process of exploring social (especially gender) relations, realism ends by confirming their inevitability’ (Diamond, 1997, p. xiii). Many feminist scholars have pointed to the limitations of claiming any attempt to reveal the truth, arguing that what is seen as truth actually charts maculinised ways of viewing the world (Case, 1988; Diamond, 1997; Dolan, 1988). Truth is viewed through a masculine lens, and therefore any representations of reality inevitably reveal women as seen by men. Women on stage are a ‘male-produced fiction’; indeed in western theatre traditions female characters were all played by men in drag, so today’s women characters are based on these traditions of male perception (Case, 1988, p. 7). This view of performance does not offer opportunities for transformation, simply using performance as a way to explore what is, rather than as what could be. Classical mimesis does not offer any way of transforming the script of rape, merely promising to watch it at work.

Yet even Plato claimed that truth itself is not fixed: for Plato, material objects are not reality themselves, but copies of a supernatural reality. Art is simply a copy of another copy claims literary theorist Susan Sontag. Classical notions of mimesis are refashioned by feminist theatre critic Elin Diamond, so that performance becomes not merely a way to reflect, but also a way to analyse and make truths. According to Diamond, mimesis need not ‘inevitably transform female subjects into fetishized objects whose referent is ideologically bound to dominant – heterosexual – models of femininity and masculinity’. In order to rewrite a patriarchal history, and defy assimilation, feminist artists have a history of presenting personal narratives, of speaking women’s stories. Helene Cixous, in Laugh of the Medusa, for example, urges women to tell their stories, and thus claim their bodies: ’By writing her self, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her’. Feminist activism has used performance in an attempt to claim women’s own mimetic representations. This reworking of mimesis may hold potentials for a discourse on transformation, suggesting ways it can agitate, rather than contain, social attitudes. Performance seen through Diamond’s mimetic lens draws attention to the workings of gendered configurations. Performance becomes a way to question truth rather than simply reproduce it. This notion of mimesis is helpful in unravelling a script of rape that relies upon static gender binaries of men as aggressive and women as passive. It suggests the body on stage, particularly women’s bodies, are ‘part of a theatrical sign system’ rather than a fixed image dictated by patriarchal norms.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Dramatherapy may be relvant in an exploration of rape prevention in that it works towards analysis and transformation of the self. Dramatherapy is a technique that weaves traditions of psychotherapy and drama to acheive personal transformation. It is used both with individual clients, and with groups of people. I did some at the Drama for Life festival in Jo'burg, 2010.

Through the use of drama, therapists are able to encourage expression of personal narratives that are not exclusively verbal, but may also rely upon image, sound, movement, and gesture. Clients are relieved from the pressures of naturalism, as possibilities of being, thinking, feeling and relating may be explored through metaphor rather than realism. Performance is an ideal tool for dramatherapy due to its ability to portray life, while simultaneously retaining a distance from life. Performance provides a critical distancing from life: while performance can analyse living behaviour, it is also removed from everyday reality. This distancing protects the individual from being overwhelmed by experiences difficult to face. Framed through play, dramatherapy sessions can be a non-threatening way for clients to deepen their awareness of hidden aspects of the self.

Dramatherapy sessions invite clients to perform themselves in new ways. Individuals are assisted to untangle themselves from rigid ways of being, exploring and experimenting with different performances of the self. David Read-Johnson writes that his work is ‘attempting to dislodge the client from the highly bounded self perceptions he or she comes to the session with’.


An improvisational technique that is used in drama therapy, ‘transformations’, is taken from the theatre games of Viola Spolin. Transformation is like free associations through performance. Two performers begin a scene, becoming any character and performing any action that occurs to them. When a sound or movement within this scene reminds one player of something else, they transfom the scene simply by beginning to act as if they were in a new one. The other actor must accept this transformation and the scene continues until it shifts again.

Transformation in Action

In working with his client Elaine, Read Johnson discusses how this technique allows the client to discover why she overeats. In a therapy session Elaine becomes very upset. She calls for her mother and when she does not arrive, Elaine begins to overeat. Elaine performs herself gorging on food. Her shameful behaviour is acted out, and Elaine is encouraged to face what is usually suppressed. Elaine eats and eats until she grows into a huge giant. The therapist joins in, also performing a fat, and powerful character. These characters then stomp around the room, squishing little people. The therapist says: ‘Boy are you fat! I’ve never seen you looking so good’, to which Elaine answers, ‘Yeh, and aren’t you fat? God you look great!’ (p. 131). They go on to sing a song about being fat. Elaine discovers that her overeating is connected to a desire for comfort. She also transforms her feelings towards her body; rather than feeling uncomfortable with her weight, Elaine performs herself enjoying the power of her body. Dramatherapy may allow clients to discover and create new ways of being through a process of self-discovery. Through continual play and experimentation clients are invited to deepen their awareness of themselves.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Freak and the Showgirl

At this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival, there is a show that stands out as an excellent example of explicit body performance. Explicit body performance is not a term that anyone other than me really uses. So yeh, I kinda made it up. I got this term from Rebecca Scheider's text The Explicit Body in Performance and find it a helpful way to talk about live performance that draws upon principles of feminist performance artExplicit body performance enables the body to become the centrepiece for drama: the show unfolds across the performer's body.

The Freak and the Showgirl is a show about bodies. Performing at the Garden of Unearthly Delights in The Spiegeltent from 1st-13th March 2011, Freak features bodies both bold and brave, wierd and wonderful. Starring Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser Freak is blend of cabaret, sideshow, freakshow, strip, and burlesque.

Mat Fraser is the self-titled freak of the show. Fraser has a condition called Phocomelia, which derives from the Greek word for seal, as his limbs look similar to a seal's flippers. Because Fraser has no thumbs, 'it takes me both hands to do what most men can do with only one hand'. The drug Thalodomide caused Fraser's condition, as his mother was proscribed this medication to cure her morning sickness when Fraser was in utero. Happily, the Thalidomide cured all Mat's Mum's morning sickness.

Fraser is a skilled and varied performer. With a background as a rock drummer, he also presents for radio and TV. Fraser regularly delivers the Ouch! Podcasts for the BBC which discusses issues relating to disability, and spoke to Radio National Life Matters last week.

Julie Atlas Muz is the showgirl of Freak, is a blonde bombshell, and winner of Miss Coney Island 2005 and Miss Exotic World 2006. An accomplished performer, Muz has just returned from lap dancing for Quentin Taratino at the Caesar Awards, where her film Tournee was nominated for an award. She is probably most well-known for her mermaid performance in a huge saltwater tank, for which she was the covergirl for Valencia Bienial in Spain 2005.

Freak presents both old and new skool sideshow, delivering a commentary on the history of both freaks and showgirls, reminding us of how each shaped sideshow into what it is today. Fraser conjures the character of 'Seal Boy', a sideshow performer from the early 1900's. As Seal Boy he does shockingly normal things like putting on a jacket! And sawing a piece of wood! Oh all the things a short-armed man can do! Muz stands behind Fraser, puts her arms through the back of his jacket, so it looks as though her arms are his. He sings and she plays the ukelele. Shock and fun and oh-so Spiegeltent.

Somehow, Muz and Fraser manage - each and every night of their show - to entice 2 audience members to skull warm west end beers and simulate sex on stage. This is while Muz and Frazer spray beers all over them and the front row. Apparently it went off in Amsterdam. And in staid, conservative little Adelaide? Well, it goes off here as well! We too become a freak and/or a showgirl! Get drunk and get frisky in front of a live audience.

As the show moves on, Fraser becomes more 'showman' than 'freak', and Muz morphs from glitzy 'showgirl' to grotesque 'freak'. Together, they merge flesh with freak, and take strip tease to extremes. Frazer performs a curious strip tease, removing his prosthetic arms. Muz is a freak showgirl, as she displays her (shocking!) pubic hair, and claims that she is both sexually active, and has hair on her nether regions. Following this is a hilarious film performed by Muz's vagina. Her vagina dresses up with glasses and funny eyes, singing the trippy-tastic Hair. Makes you wanna get out your minge and dress it all up.

In one scene, Frazer expertly sings a showtune while Muz, dressed as a witch, pulls the glittery guts out of a doll. In another, Muz dances alluringly at the back of the stage with her back to us, clothed only in scant lacy black knickers and a gyrating rhythm. She moves like a stripper, portraying herself as pure spectacle: audience can look and desire without her looking back. We are free to imagine the rest of her body and fresh-face without it actually being revealed. Yet when she finally turns around at the end of the song, it is not the face of a to-be-desired angel that innocently gazes back but a hideous face with a huge wart-encrusted nose. Do we continue to desire her? Do we ache to return to the not-knowing of her imagined face? Can we desire a freak? Who is the freak? Are we become more freak-ish?


With the title a play on the film Prince and the Showgirl, featuring Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier, Freak is for those who like burlesque with brains. It is both throught-provoking and side-tickling, glamorous and feral.
Check out more of Muz's explicit body performance:

Here is Muz's Moon, a burlesque performance in New York City.
Muz again in NYC, this time at the Spiegeltent, doing a drunk-stabbed strip
Muz at the Burlesque Ball in 2010 as a Sun Goddess.

And if you like the horror-ific rather than the strip-or-ific, here is my favourite: Muz's tribute to Elizabeth Bathary, Hungarian Countess, and prolific serial killer. Performed at the Galapagos art Space, 2009.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Theatre for Development

In asking how performance may prevent rape, I bring together divergently different methods of performance. Specifically, I aim to bring together techniques and principles of community-driven applied theatre, and explicit body performance.

Applied theatre is an umbrella term for many different types of performance, including community arts, theatre in education and theatre for development.

Theatre for development is the use of performance to assist development outcomes. It is the use of theatre by NGO's and government health, aid, and educational orgainsations that oftens aims to teach a specific message. Theatre may be used to teach people about ways to prevent malaria, the risks of female infibulation, or to encourage villagers to send their children to school. It is primarily an educational tool, a method of delivering messages in fun and engaging ways.

Importantly, theatre for development is presented in local languages, and often performed in hard-to-reach communities. The use of performance enables health and education messages to be accessible to those who are illiterate, and to those without access to radios, television and the internet. Performace is used to its ability to remain locally relevant and contemporary with few resources.

Unlike theatre of the oppressed, theatre for development is not a specific set of techniques, but the application of theatre in the field of development.

While this work attempts to work with marginalised communities on issues that are important to them, theatre for development may be critiqued for proscribing information, for simply delivering information. Rather than engage with communities to discover local knowledge, or foster an attitude of communal enquiry, as is done in theatre of the oppressed, theatre for development delivers key messages.

Theatre of the Oppressed

In my first foray into community arts in 1991 I attempted a method called Theatre of the Oppressed, with a show entitled innabody. In this show I worked with 7 women under 25 to explore body image and eating disorders. We created a piece of Forum Theatre which asked the audience to actively solve the problems presented on the stage.

Here is an image from a Forum theatre I piece I did in 2007, entitled She.

This is a popular method of performance used in community arts, and I have used it several times since. Each time I have been part of the experience I have found it to be collectively transformative.

What is Theatre of the Oppressed?
Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) was created by Augusto Boal in Brazil, following the pedagogy of Paolo Friere. Friere, also from Brazil, wrote about 'bottom up' rather than 'top down' education. In this style both teachers and students decide upon curriculum and examination. Teachers and students share the same power, simply sifferent functions within the school.

In Boal's approach, rather than use theatre to proscribe messages to people, he uses performance to help people uncover their own desires. TO therefore distances itself from some theatre for development and theatre in education that proscribes health, education, or development messages to people. The stage is instead used as a place for the oppressed to critique and work together against the oppressor.

TO is made up of several performative forms, including Forum Theatre, Rainbow of Desire, and Newspaper Theatre and Legaslative Theatre.

Augusto Boal

What is Forum Theatre?
Forum theatre is a style in which a problem that is faced by an individual, one likely to be shared by many in the community, is performed in front of spect-actors. The story is performed again, but this time, any spect-actor (Boal's term for one who is both spectator and actor) may yell out 'stop!' at any time during the story, and attempt to solve the problem presented on-stage.

The story is changed, repeated, and retried until a solution is reached that all are happy with. Solutions must be possible, without any 'magic' cures.

Performance therefore becomes a model for future action. It is preparation and planning for overcoming a shared problem. The stage is a safe space to practice and make mistakes. It is a place to share solutions, and try new options.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Headphone/Verbatim Theatre

I attended a headphone/verbatim theatre workshop and presentation with Roslyn Oades on Friday. The workshop was presented by Vitalstatistix Theatre, and used work from Roslyn's show with Urban Theatre Projects, Stories of Love and Hate.


What is Headphone/Verbatim Theatre?

Headphone/verbatim theatre is a method of theatre-making which collects true stories of communities and individuals. These stories are recorded and edited, and played through headphones which actors wear on-stage.

The headphones serve as a visual sign that the words the actor speaks are not her own. Oades speaks of the actor as instead channeling the person who originally delivered the story. The actor reproduces the voice, breath, and vocal characteristics of the story, breathing their breath, feeling their words in their mouth.

This is similar to what Rebecca Schneider refers to as 'ghosting' in her book, The Explicit Body in Performance. Schneider's work is a key text in my research on rape prevention and uses feminist analysis to explore performances by Annie Sprinkle and Carolee Schneeman, among others. This 'ghosting' refers to the referencing of a precedent, as if to 'summon the ghosts'. It is not an attempt to find the pure, unadulterated story, but an awareness of the instability of representation. There is no attempt to recreate the real, but instead, to represent it. So in the piece, Stories of Love and Hate we do not hear the 'real' story of the Cronulla riots, but we listen to representations of representations of the riot. Moral judgement and any attempt to choose who is 'right' then receeds, as focus is intead drawn to multiple layers of representations.

Headphone/verbatim theatre draws attention to the absence of the original speaker, as layers and layers of representation layer and wrap around themselves. The headphones, and the attempt to precisely represent what is spoken and breathed through these headphones quote a precident. They make reference to the fact that there was an original, and this is not it. It is not an attempt to lull the audience into pretending that this actor really expereinced what they are saying. We are forced to see the gap. There is no real, but continually rebounding representations.

Headphone/Verbatim Theatre is Not 'Real' 

This is not mimicry nor imitation. The actor does not 'become' the person whose story is being told. This is not realism, it is what Roslyn calls 'hyper-realism'. It draws attention to the real while not emulating it.

Headphone/verbatim theatre is an act of deep listening. It is like walking in another person's shoes. It is breathing their breath, feeling all the shapes of their words in your mouth. Perhaps this is an act of true empathy. Allowing the person's aural expression to fill the actor's body.

Does Headphone/Verbatim Theatre Attempt Transformation Through Performance?

As my research and practice is interested in transformation - using performance to explore transformation of the rape script - it is worth asking if this method of theatre-making can work towards this.

I suggest that headphone/verbatim theatre can transform stories in a similar way that playback theatre attempts. This is not a deliberate attempt to 'try something different', but a reflection upon what is. In this way then, it differs from drama therapy and Theatre of the Oppressed which uses performance to practice new ways of being in the world. In these styles, the stage is a mini-world, a safe and flexible world, which can be used as a platform to deliberately practice actions in the off-stage world.

Yet headphone/verbatim theatre (and playback) replays people's stories back to themselves as authentically as the actor is able, without mimicing, and without altering. New words are not put into people's mouths. People are not proscribed any course of action, nor asked to engage in looking at the issue in different ways. The 'right' way or a 'better' way is not sought.

The transformation that is enabled, therefore, does not occur on-stage, as it does in the forms of drama therapy and Theatre of the Oppressed. Transformation occurs in the mind of witnesses, after and during performances, off-stage rather than on-stage. Witnesses are presented with different and perhaps even conflicting stories. These stories are not presented as real, but as representations. So we are drawn to question them, to consider them. Unlike working with community performers themselves, I am not responsible for considering the on-stage words seriously - I am free to laugh, not care, to care too much. I am not responsible for the well-being of the on-stage performer, as the words they speak are simply repetitions of those uttered by someone else. Neither am I asked to consider the actor's cleverness, how astutely they can become another character.

Critical analysis is pointed to, yet not demanded. And this analysis can lead to a transformation of witnesses. Stories of Love and Hate has been performed to communities affected by the Cronulla riots. I suppose some people who were actively involved in the Cronulla riots attented the show. In this case, where witnesses may share opinions with those expressed on-stage, headphone/verbatim theatre encourages a reconsideration. It highlights an array of opinions, a range of views about difference, home, and family. It gently encourages witnesses to accept multiple voices, without settling on proscriptive advice.